Awakening Wednesday: Creating Sarian Monarim
Welcome to Awakening Wednesday, a new feature where we will dedicate the midweek to giving you behind the scenes info on Vacant Sky Awakening from the various members of Project BC!
This week, I’m up! I’m Kate, I’m primarily the art director, character designer and character artist among other things. I’m here to talk about the interesting and convoluted design process behind Sarian Monarim, a party member in our upcoming release.
From the get-go, I knew I wanted Sarian to look very distinctive because she’s such an interesting person. She’s got a lot of conflicting sides to her character; she’s one of your hardest hitting partymembers, but she’s physically frail and must walk with a cane, she’s highly intelligent but has an underlying emotional naivete, she’s both the most serious partymember and yet also one of the wittiest, she’s wise and educated but she’s still a teenager, she’s a young maiden and a noblewoman but she loves to mess with the system. The nice thing about working in a small team is being able to really get to know the character you’re designing before you put pencil to paper.
For me, a pencil and paper is generally where I go when I’m brainstorming, and I usually do it sat on the floor because hey, that’s how I learned to draw as a baby, why not!?
Sarian’s first design. Wow this feels a long time ago now. She was the only party member in the first part who didn’t have any old design ideas from Bishop lying around. Believe it or not, originally Korelli had that hairstyle. I was confident that giving this short, hard cut to Sarian would be a good idea. Korelli was instead given a cute, soft ponytail. Many of the design elements were in place for what would be her design for a long time and even up until the present even at this early stage; the snake cane, the mantle and hood, the choker, long gloves and, of course, an ankle length dress; I knew I wanted an ankle-length dress because I have always imagined Sarian’s legs, as well as being weak, may be a little warped or maybe just very bony and she doesn’t like people seeing them.
I also noted down things I didn’t like; those clumpy boots, the belt that ruins the flow, and the stupid idea of a character who isn’t very mobile wielding a knife of all things.
Sarian’s “final” design as it stood for a very long time. I think it’s a nice one! I’d like to reuse elements of this sometime down the line. Sarian’s colour scheme uses green and purple; typically villainous colours. A nice thing with Vacant Sky Awakening is that a major theme is “you play the villain”, so the party have some villainous looking elements to them. Except Korelli of course, who is just dangerously adorable. The Orkan clothing is largely influenced by Regency and Victorian period British fashion with some Fantasy elements thrown in. I’m a huge dork when it comes to clothing from different time periods, cultures and subcultures, and tend to do a lot of research and collecting of references from all over the place.
Sarian’s image from the Kickstarter campaign. The only major change here is that she’s lost her sleeves. The more I drew Sarian, the more skinny and angular she got. I really wanted to subvert that whole idea of the “ill heroine” in games, they usually don’t look ill and their illness inconveniences them in no way at all physically, they just randomly cough up blood or faint at plot points. Sarian is pale, gaunt, bony, physically weak… and she will incinerate anything that gets in her way. She’s a character whose disability is not a superpower; it makes life hard for her, but she’s not helpless. She lives with her disability and has become strong in her own way.
Ahh the character render we used for the promo video! This was our first time making a fully finished model. I did the texturing on this.
It was at this stage that we discovered that rigging is a nightmare. Having such a small team, we can’t afford a dedicated rigger and don’t really have time, and Sarian’s big hood and mantle were causing serious problems. After deliberation for months, we realised we really had no choice but to redesign Sarian to be more 3D friendly. So it was back to me to redesign a character I had felt was one of my strongest designs to still have the same sort of feeling and still be striking and distinctive, but to also be rig-friendly with no clutter on the shoulders or armpit region. Another request that was made was to at some kind of extra interest to the long drop of the dress. I spent several hours trawling through as much info as I could find about Regency period fashion looking for interesting ideas and doodling things I immediately deleted because they were awful. Naturally after struggling for a while, I went back to paper. I sat in my garden and started sketching:
As soon as I drew the collar to replace the hood, I realised I’d have to slant the hair to make it work. You can even see in the top left where I rubbed it out! I realised that it actually looked better that way; the sharper angle works well with Sarian’s sharp personality as well as her subversive nature. Sarian became more edgy as these gothic and grunge elements worked their way in and yet, at the same time, she became more period-accurate too, with the Spencer Jacket and chemise and the very high waist. The “Dysiaboo” thing will make sense when you play the game, but Sarian has an intense fascination with the culture of Orka’s rival nation, the Dysian Empire, and kind of nerds out over their more “Enlightened” culture to the point that we started to call her a “Dysiaboo” in conversations. I tried a design with some of the classical and imperial elements of the Dysian Empire in, but it was a little plain and also would have made the Dysian characters you come across feel less distinctive, so I toned them down. Amazingly that batwing shaped chemise was based on an actual Regency period design. Why we don’t have Pride and Prejudice and Batman yet, I don’t even know! I had this weird thought about a wing pattern that kind of encloses her chest and it just worked. It felt so perfect for her subversive nature to have these symbols of chemistry and medicine enshrined with dark wings. Sarian loves science and magic; her life was saved by them as a child. The snakeskin-like chemise also gives a sense of “rebirth” to Sarian.
Sarian’s new design! The symbol of Mercury; a life source in alchemy but also a poison, sits in pride of place above the star of the Orkan church. Sarian sure likes to play close to the edge! The little brass studs make her look kind of punk, which I love. I’m actually really happy with this design; it kind of fits her even better than her old one did. And so we get to making game graphics and…
It’s coming along nicely!